Who was Beethoven’s ‘Immortal Beloved’?
After Ludwig van Beethoven’s death, a love letter in his writing was discovered, addressed only to his ‘Immortal Beloved’. Decades later, Countess Therese Brunsvik claims to have been the composer’s lost love. Yet is she concealing a tragic secret? Who is the one person who deserves to know the truth?
Becoming Beethoven’s pupils in 1799, Therese and her sister Josephine followed his struggles against the onset of deafness, Viennese society’s flamboyance, privilege and hypocrisy and the upheavals of the Napoleonic wars. While Therese sought liberation, Josephine found the odds stacked against even the most unquenchable of passions…
What I Thought:
You can always count on publisher Unbound to have some really interesting projects to back, or books to buy. Take Immortal as a for instance – an historical fiction book that not only expands on a popular theory about Beethoven’s life but also examines the early wisps of feminism and the concept of universal education.
Told through the eyes of Countess Therese Brunsvik, who introduced the first pre-schools to Hungary, Jessica Duchen develops the theory that Therese’s sister, Josephine, was the intended recipient of a letter found after Beethoven’s death and addressed to ‘Immortal Beloved’. Whether or not that is true, it is a creative way in to the sniping and gossip of Vienna during the Napoleonic wars.
I really enjoyed this book. The historical elements and scene setting were done with a very light hand. The research needed to produce this book must have been phenomenal, and yet it is delicately used to pull us deep into Beethoven’s public and personal life. The way Jessica Duchen relates Beethoven’s response to his growing deafness is very sensitively done and it tugs at the heartstrings to see the great composer losing his hearing, rather than just knowing the bare fact that ‘Beethoven was deaf’.
Writing this enduring mystery into historical fiction is a great move, allowing the author to present a possible set of answers without worrying about having it contradicted! It also allows much greater exploration of the characters involved – Therese’s inner thoughts were particularly interesting as she begins to think about her situation as a woman, and how unfair the system is for her and the women in her life.
The music of Beethoven is woven tightly into the narrative in this book – Jessica Duchen describes select pieces as they come into the lives of the Brunsvik family and it’s amazing how you can almost hear the music from her descriptions. I know a few Beethoven pieces, but there is a feast here to choose from in exploring further.
I think the power of this novel is that, while it is about Beethoven’s life, you could lift those real-life characters out of the story and drop fictional ones in and it would still be a compelling, accessible and highly intriguing novel. The fact that the plot is, potentially, close to true events is the icing on the cake!
Immortal is published by Unbound.
This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication on Immortal – why not check out some of the other blogs below for more reviews and exclusive content?
Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.